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Nokia’s bet on a programmable city pays off

Paul Adams, Nokia Networks, talks to Smart Cities World about Nokia’s role in Bristol’s smart city initiative.

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This article is in association with Nokia Networks.

 

Nokia has been one of the major partners in Bristol Is Open since it launched. In the same spirit of openness that characterises the project, Paul Adams, Marketing Director, UK&I at Nokia Networks, opens up to Smart Cities World about the ups, downs and key takeaways from this visionary initiative.

 

For a detailed look at Bristol’s smart city initiative, download Smart Cities World’s detailed City Profile.

 

SCW: There are many partners in Bristol Is Open. What role does Nokia play?

 

PA: We’ve been involved in Bristol for well over three years, and were involved pretty much from its inception. The role that we play has evolved over that time.

 

Originally, Bristol Is Open was funded by local, national and European governments along with academic research funding and money from the private sector, including Nokia, which is how we became an investor in the project.

 

We don’t actually provide any equipment, and that’s the point because the infrastructure itself is completely agnostic.

 

We don’t actually provide any equipment, and that’s the point because the infrastructure itself is completely agnostic.

 

SCW: Is this an unusual way for you to work?

 

PA: It’s not untypical for Nokia to invest in all sorts of things. We invest in and have joint partnerships with, a large number of organisations globally but Bristol was a pioneering investment for us in terms of smart cities.

 

SCW: What attracted you to the Bristol Is Open initiative?

 

PA: The vision. One of the key things about Bristol Is Open was that it didn’t really talk about a ‘smart city’ but rather a ‘programmable city’. The idea of having a properly connected city infrastructure where companies can test applications in a real-world environment really got us interested – it was unlike anything else in the world.

 

However, the thing about visionary projects is you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen – you have to go with it. Bristol started the programme and we went along for the ride and supported it because we were interested in seeing what was going to happen as well.

 

There have been a number of changes along the way and we have all learned a lot. For example, the strategy that has been put in place by Julie Snell brings with it a high degree of realism and the opportunity to become involved in a much more programmatic way.

 

Rather than being an investor and having access to the network for a fixed amount of time, whether you have anything you want to test or not, she has introduced a philosophy that is much more around testing specific applications. This brings structure to the work and the vision is really being taken forward.

 

SCW: What are your key takeaways from your work with Bristol Is Open so far?

 

PA: The first thing we learned is it’s really quite hard. It’s very different when you move from something being a slide on a screen to trying to deploy it in anger.

 

The first thing we learned is it’s really quite hard. It’s very different when you move from something being a slide on a screen to trying to deploy it in anger.

 

A good example of that is when we were looking to deploy environmental sensors on bus stops.

 

The use case was around a young mother with an asthmatic child who wants to travel around Bristol. It would be useful for that family to have a real-time pollution map of the city, so they could plan journeys effectively and protect the asthmatic child.

 

Everyone was very enthusiastic about this application. However, the business model was a challenge – who is going to pay for that? And that’s something we’ve constantly come across.

 

I think all players, big and small, who operate in smart city environments recognise that the financial models are not necessarily that established. There’s still some work to do – working out how and what people get paid, and how the ecosystem fits together

 

I think all players, big and small, who operate in smart city environments recognise that the financial models are not necessarily that established. There’s still some work to do.

 

That’s quite difficult to work out. We also had an enormous amount of difficulty finding sensors for the bus stops that had the right level of functionality, so we made them ourselves. That is an advantage of being an engineering company of course.

 

We talk about all these things that can be measured but often the sensors don’t actually exist. I think the world is catching up there, though.

 

SCW: Do you feel you moved these issues on through your work?

 

PA: Bristol Is Open was well ahead of its time when we became involved in it. We were pretty ahead of our time too as the main communications vendor involved.

 

One thing I feel we have really advanced is the idea of the City As A Platform. Many cities fall into the trap of thinking about use cases in isolation, and I think we did a little bit at first in Bristol, too.

 

Take bins, for example, that are armed with sensors to send automated alerts when the bin is full. That’s only solving half the problem. What you actually need to be able to do is link the bin collection programme with the recycling programme, the composting programme and the transport programmes.

 

What is really needed is a city-wide orchestration platform that’s able to talk to all of the different departments. When you’re thinking in a more joined-up way, the business model starts emerging. For example, you can show how a truck collects a bin, then how you extract all the precious metal and separate the waste which can be composted to turn into fertiliser to give to farmers.

 

The links show the value and therefore point towards a more sustainable business model that combines the IT systems of multiple departments, rather than applications and services in siloed departments.

 

SCW: What’s next for Nokia and smart cities?

 

PA: We took a bit of a punt on Bristol and I think it served us well. We acted as a partner, rather than a supplier or even a customer. It’s all been a learning experience for everyone.

 

Anyone who says that they know what smart cities are really about is not entirely telling the truth because it’s still a developing area.

 

Anyone who says that they know what smart cities are really about is not entirely telling the truth because it’s still a developing area. However, what you do in one place is typically repeatable so the major thing Nokia can offer other cities now is experience.

 

At Nokia, we have an enormous amount of experience – both from working with Bristol but also from engagement that we’ve had with other smart cities across the world. Making smart cities a reality is all about experience.

 

Download the full City Profile to find out more about Bristol’s smart city initiative.

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